NZ schoolgirls told to cover knees – from teachers

$$-AAA-001In 1955 Vladimir Nabakov wrote his controversial novel Lolita. The novel tells the story of the antihero, Humbert Humbert, having had a sexual encounter at an early age, becomes obsessed with young teenage girls, takes up a career as a school teacher, and marries a woman in order to gain access to her 14-year-old daughter Dolores, aka Lolita, with him he has become madly infatuated. After the mother’s untimely death, Humbert takes Lolita on the road with him, until she goes missing from a hospital, leading to Humbert hunting her down for two years. Very dark in it’s subject matter, the novel tells of Lolita fleeing an abusive partner, ending up pregnant, Humbert killing her abuser and Lolita dying in childbirth.

In the novel it is Humbert who insists that it is Lolita who manipulated and seduced him, when properly interpreted, it is she who is the victim of men unable to control their lusts. Since it’s publication in 1959, “Lolita” has been used as a common term for sexually promiscuous and manipulative teenage girls. And there is a common thread which goes right back to the novel; blaming the victim, which is an all-too-common trait sexual abusers of children.

So as both a feminist and survivor of childhood sexual abuse, when I heard the story of Henderson High School in Auckland, New Zealand, I immediately recognised a culture of blaming a victim, and worse still, became somewhat alarmed at the mention of adult males in the context of the story. This school has dictated to it’s female pupils that skirts must be worn below the knee, to prevent the male pupils becoming distracted. Now, it is not uncommon to hear this; it has happened in schools all over the world, and roundly needs to be criticised as it is the boys who need to stop looking upon the girls as sex objects; there’s the blaming the victim right away. What singles Henderson High out however, is the rather disturbing way they have gone a step further, and stated that this rule is also to prevent male teachers becoming distracted – by girls who could be as young as 13.

Sade Tuttle, a student at the school, states that a group of 40 girls were told by Deputy Head Teacher Cherith Telford after an assembly that the rule to keep skirts below the knee were necessary to “keep our girls safe, stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff”. And should anyone think that is but one teenage girl trying to stir up shit against her school, then it appears that her story has been corroborated, by no less than the Principal of Henderson High, Mike Purcell, who has stated that rules around school uniforms are “regularly enforced to ensure that all students and teachers can focus on their learning and feel comfortable in the school environment. All families are made aware of them when they enrol students. The rules include a stipulation that the hemline of female students’ skirts must be on the knee, no higher. This rule is in line with most New Zealand schools where uniforms are worn.”

Nobody is for one moment disputing the rules surrounding the length of school uniform skirts in New Zealand. It is the handling of this matter by Henderson High School which seriously needs to be called into question. Ms Tuttle said it best; “The rules themselves aren’t the problem; the problem is when these codes target girls specifically because their bodies are sexual and distracting”, as did another student, who stated that she went to school to be educated – not to be sexualised. A former pupil went further; “How about you stop telling 15 year old girls – that aren’t even legal to have sex – how sexual their knees are and how they need to cover themselves up because its a risk and distracting to male staff,” she posted on Facebook, “How about you don’t hire staff that are going to get aroused by a teenage girls knees?”

One has to ask what prompted Ms Telford and Mr Purcell to word the ruling in this manner? Were there male pupils who had made complaints? And worse still, were there male teachers who voiced their concern? In both cases, it is the boys and men who need to be educated not to look upon the female pupils as sexual objects. But if any adult male has brought the matter up, I would suggest that the professionalism of that teacher immediately needs to be called into question, because frankly, that is setting off a whole load of alarm bells in my head.

I am not for one moment denying that some teenage girls can be little minxes – it happens. Some girls can, do and will push the envelope wherever possible and see how far they can hitch their skirts up. Equally, young teenage girls can and do become infatuated with boys and even male teachers at schools. Just as some young teenage boys can and do become infatuated with girls and female teachers. And yes, they will go out of their way to dress in a way to show off their bodies – and their bulges (oh, hide it, for goodness sake – nobody’s impressed). Human beings are sexual creatures and in the nightmare of puberty, when our hormones completely screw up our minds and we start discovering our sexuality, it is quite common for this to happen. But when this does happen, the onus is always – always – upon the adult to behave like an adult and gently put the child down. And that is never more important than when that adult is a professional entrusted with a duty of care to those children. Anyone who denies that is behaving like Humbert, attempting to shift the blame onto Lolita. And if anyone cares to search the internet for court cases involving paedophilia and hebephilia (sexual attraction to pubescent or post-pubescent teens – Humbert was a hebephile, not a paedophile) then they will find that most defendants attempt this line of blaming the victim.

Some may think I am making quite a jump from school uniforms to actual convictions of child sex abusers. I say prevention is better than cure, and one has to watch out for the warning signs. If any teacher, or any professional entrusted with a duty of care to children, looks upon their charges with any degree of sexuality, that person is not fit for the post they are holding and needs to be removed and investigated. Should anyone think I am overplaying this, then consider that in the 1970s the rather sick Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) – who sought civil ‘rights’ for paedophiles and hebephiles – had a list of suggested careers for paedophiles; top of the list was join the clergy, second was to become a school teacher.

The whole issue goes deeper however, and surrounds the way that girls are sexualised from an early age. I recall once reading an article in one of my mother’s magazines which utterly horrified me. It was written by a mother trying to justify buying her daughter “frothy” undies, because “she just wants to be just like mummy”. There again was an adult acting without any sense of proportion, but then when there are firms and stores which produce and sell ‘sexy’ lingerie for little girls, it is yet one more symptom of the overall sickness. And no, I am not blaming the victim here, merely saying that adults need to act with some sense of propriety. Every little girl likes to make herself look pretty, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But when that crosses the line from making herself look pretty for her own self esteem, to making herself ‘attractive’ for the attention of males who can’t control themselves, it immediately becomes a problem. No young girl becomes “Lolita” on her own; it is adults who make her so.

Yet society too owes a responsibility to that. The fact is that girls and women, are sexualised, sexually harassed, abused, and raped from tiny babies to the extremely elderly, at all times of day, in all kinds of environments, whether they are attractive or plain – and in whatever they are wearing. Even nuns in habits and Islamic women in full burqah and niqab are not immune from from the unwelcome sexual advances of men. And then of course, one has to ask what does and does not constitute seductive clothing. Well this can cover a great many things, including lingerie, mini skirts, boob tubes, basques, stockings, nurses uniforms, ermm – nun’s habits, and of course – school uniforms. Doubt the latter? Stores and online outlets selling sexual cosplay gear make a fortune out of ‘naughty schoolgirl’ costumes, Britney Spears got a number one on the back of a video of girls in school uniforms, Japanese anime is full of them, and the St Trinian’s movies (old and modern) did indeed sexualise schoolgirls in uniforms, as did The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

So, if school uniforms are already sexualised, if girls are already sexualised, then the Deputy and Principal of Henderson High School have openly discriminated against their female students and are now trying to hide behind the dress code for most New Zealand schools. They are in fact further blaming those who are already victims, when in reality they seriously need to address their own behaviours, as well as those of their male students, and more importantly still, their adult male staff, whom they may well wish to examine more closely, in order to root out any potential ‘Humberts’ – before it’s too late.

Germaine Greer is not a Woman

Claims to know how women should look, sound and behave

Claims to know how women should look, sound and behave

And that’s by her own definition

There is a controversy going on in the UK over whether feminist author and celebrity Germaine Greer should have been allowed to speak at Cardiff University, Wales, on 18 November.

Greer, now 73, was once the doyen of the feminist movement, whose 1970 book The Female Eunuch, became an instant bestseller and led many women to realise their full potential as individuals.  A liberation feminist rather than an equality feminist, in which she believes women’s liberation means embracing sex differences in a positive fashion – a struggle for the freedom of women to “define their own values, order their own priorities and decide their own fate.” (Germaine Greer, “The Whole Woman”, 1999)

So far, so hoopy.  That is a very positive goal, which I personally admire and can fully agree with.

Unfortunately, Greer’s attitude to male to female transgender people is far from laudable.  Indeed, she goes as far as to deny the very existence of trans people, which has caused the controversy over her intended speech at Cardiff.  A petition was started asking her to be banned.  In the event, Greer cancelled the talk herself.

The entire debacle started back in 2009, when Greer wrote an article for the UK newspaper, The Guardian, in which she stated that trans women “seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so.  We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.”

There it is, girls; every one of you trans women are suffering delusions.  One can only wonder what Germaine Greer makes of crossdressing genderfluid pansexuals like myself.  But then, I don’t even need to ask.  For in a speech at Cambridge University in January, she stated that trans women know what it is like “to have a big, hairy, smelly vagina”.

Can we take it from that statement that Germaine Greer defines her womanhood (and every other woman’s) by her genitalia?  Excuse me, but isn’t a huge part of liberation feminism fighting the sexualisation of women?

Not for Greer, it appears, for she goes further.  She stated both in 1999 and 2009,  “No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight.”

This is the oft-repeated transphobic assertion that trans women are not real women, because they can neither ovulate or give birth. The fact that Germaine Greer is unrepentant over these ill-chosen words concern me greatly, and I wonder if she actually realises the full crassness of her statement.  For by saying such, she not only deeply insults trans women, but also infertile women.  Even if not doing it directly, she is defining what a woman is by her ability to ovulate and give birth.

And given that, I am more than willing to turn that right around on Germaine Greer.  For if she wants to define women thus, then given her age I would imagine that she no longer able to menstruate and I would be very surprised if she ever gave birth to a child now.  Therefore, by her very own narrow definition, Germaine Greer is no longer a woman.

That is of course, a nonsense.  But it is playing Greer at her own game, just like all the other TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists).

And it is an important nonsense.  What qualifies this Australian former convent school girl (oh, there’s a fucking surprise), with qualifications in English and French and an honourary doctorate alone, to speak on anyone’s gender except her own?  Absolutely nothing.  Indeed, even if she had qualifications in medicine or psychology, she still would not be qualified to say who is and who is not a woman.  For the only person who is an individual on their gender is that person themselves, whether they have a penis, a vagina (big, hairy and smelly or not), or both.

Now there’s a thing; what does Germaine Greer say about intersex individuals?  What does she say pseudohermaphroditism, where the testes do not drop but grow inside the (female) body?  Do we even want to know?  Probably not.  Like trans women, she probably claims they don’t exist.

Amidst all this, Germaine Greer denies being transphobic.  Says the woman who made all the above statements, and has also recently accused Caitlyn Jenner of “stealing the limelight” from Kim Kardashian, and that get this, “misogyny played a big part” in the decision of Glamour magazine to name Caitlyn Jenner their Woman of the Year.  Of course, Greer’s denial of being transphobic is not akin to the person who says “I’m not a racist, but…”.  No, it’s much more insidious, because it is again based upon her complete denial of the existence of trans women.  When asked about transphobia, she told The Cambridge Student magazine “I didn’t know there was such a thing. Arachnaphobia, yes. Transphobia, no.”

Really Germaine?  Tell that to the trans women who have been shunned by their loved ones, the ones who have been driven out of their neighbourhoods, the ones who daily live with abuse, the ones who have been threatened, the ones who have been beaten, and to the loved ones of the trans women who have been killed.  That is the reality millions of trans women (and men) face every day, and to make flippant remarks about arachnophobia are not only not funny, they are disgusting.

Meanwhile, the middle class dahlings of The Guardian are trying to claim that Silencing Germaine Greer will let prejudice against trans people flourish (Guardian, 25 October).  In a disingenuous article under the above heading, Zoe Williams of The Guardian tried to claim that “it is precisely because there is still so much prejudice against trans people that nobody should be silenced.”  What?  In the same way that allowing white supremacists a platform will put a stop to racism?  That allowing jihadists to speak will end Islamic extremism?  That allowing a fundamentalist Christian to speak on God’s ‘role’ for women will eradicate misogyny.  Not a bit of it.  Hate speech is hate speech, however it is dressed up, and deserves to be shut down wherever possible.  This is precisely why Cardiff University has rules against certain speakers who spread hate, which should have made the petition completely unnecessary in the first place.

Some have claimed that Greer’s talk was to be on Women in Power and nothing to do with trans issues.  Given this entire recent debacle – and Greer’s own words against Caitlyn Jenner – it is unintelligent to even imagine she would not have touched on the subject.

Germaine Greer of course is having a grand old time playing the martyr now.  “I was going to talk about women and power, because I think there is a lot of triumphalist [sic] talk that masks the real historic situation,” she told BBC News, “And apparently people have decided that because I don’t think that post-operative transgender men are women I’m not to be allowed to talk.”  Aww, poor Germaine – not allowed to spread her hate speech, which every TERF on the face of the planet would lap up, and which could end in more attacks upon trans women.

But as we can see, she remains unrepentant, which she made clear to the BBC by stating, “a great many women” who are cisgender think that trans women do not “look like, sound like or behave like women”.

Well firstly, I’m sure most if not all of my readers are only too painfully aware of the ignorance and prejudice which cis privilege affords.  That no sooner backs up Greer’s argument.  There are many straight people who deny that some people are born homosexual, but that does not mean that lesbians and gays do not exist.  Germaine Greer is far from either ignorant nor stupid, therefore when she makes such a crass statement, one can only surmise that she is speaking from pure blind transphobic bigotry.

Secondly, and possibly more importantly, I was unaware that there was / is any particular way for women to look, sound, or behave.  Far from it, I say that women come in all shapes and sizes, with many different looks, many different voices, and who follow many different behaviours.  That’s what makes them individuals, and one can only wonder what qualifies Germaine Greer – or any these other cis women she claims to speak for – to dictate and define how a woman should look, sound or behave?

But then, I ask that because I am a liberation feminist.  Germaine Greer, once one of the most important voices of feminism, is nothing today but yet one more cis bigot, and a sad parody of her former self.

Well done Poppy Smart

Poppy Smart

Poppy Smart

One woman’s stance against sexist builders may have opened flood gates for stronger action

Poppy Smart is a 23 year old digital marketing co-ordinator in Worcester, England.  She is a successful woman with a good career.  Her life seemed to be going well, until she had to pass a building site on her way to work every morning.

Passing the building site, Poppy was subjected to wolf-whistles and harrassment in the form of sexual comments from the builders on a daily basis.  On one occassion one man even deliberately blocked her path.  Poppy described their behaviour as “incredibly intimidating”. This became so much of a problem for her that she considered changing her route.  Instead, after a month of this harrassment, she decided one day to film the harrassment, and having done so, she made a complaint to the firm employing the builders and with her local constabulary, Mercia Police.

Police, armed with the video, visited the building site and interviewed one of the builders, 28 year old Ian Merrett, warning him that his behaviour constituted sexual harrassment, for which he could be charged.  Poppy subsequently received some form of apology from the firm, and having accepted that, Mercia Police decided to take no further action.

Poppy Smart’s actions have led to a national debate in the UK, with a great many people standing against her and even sympathising with Ian Merrett.  Disturbingly, the overwhelming responses have been one of blaming the victim.

Phillip Davies, Conservative Member of Parliament for Shipley, West Yorkshire, stated “I would have thought the police have better things to do.”  One can only hope that women in his constituency remember his words when they vote in the forthcoming General Election on 7 May.  Media ‘celebrity’ Vanessa Phelps stated on her BBC London Radio show, “Some people would say, if you don’t like it, then cross the street or get a bit more robust … You don’t think that your discomfort is worth using up valuable police time.”

Some reactions, both from the media and the public, have since made personal attacks against Poppy Smart.  The Guardian (29 April) reported “Several of the discussions involved commentary on Smart’s looks. One article highlighted the fact that she was childless and unmarried. Some news outlets used pictures that seemed to have been taken from Smart’s social media accounts, showing her posing for selfies wearing a low-cut top – a decision it’s difficult not to interpret as a snide suggestion that she might have somehow been “asking for it”.”

And of course, the response from the public, particularly from keyboard warriors and online trolls have been predictable.  Comments below a BBC report on the story included “I’d say she was very lucky to get a whistle. She needs a bag over her head”, “who would do that to her anyway ugly bitch”, and of course the inevitable, “What she needs is a bit of cock. That’ll sort her out!”

Ian Merrett, for his part, remains unrepentant.  He told The Mirror (29 April)  “It’s highly likely it was me who did that wolf-whistle.  I’ve seen the news coverage and it’s not right. I’m a builder and my mates are builders. We are all hard working people and our reputation has been damaged.  Wolf-whistling is part and parcel of working on a site, it’s complimenting a girl.”

Having admitted that it was probably him who did the wolf-whistle, Merrett then contradicts himself and tries to feign innocence by stating “I can remember that day when she [Miss Smart] took the video, we were under-pinning a wall that day,  I only saw the back of her, I didn’t even see her face and you can see in the video the wolf-whistle comes after she had passed the gate.  I didn’t even see her face, and I wouldn’t recognise her if I fell over her in the street, so I don’t know how that could possibly be sexual harassment.  Police came to our site and said someone had made an allegation of harassment. They showed us the video so we stopped doing it.”

Then came Mr Merrett’s most astounding statements, which included not a little bit of wishful thinking methinks; “It’s not worth getting into trouble over some silly little girl. I don’t know why she complained, she must be thinking things above her station.  I’m sure if she walks past again and she is lucky she will get wolf-whistled again.  I have wolf-whistled so many girls and got so many birds and snogged so many girls off the back of that, and never had a complaint before.  But I’ve got a girlfriend so need to be careful what I say.”

Yes, you read right; “silly little girl”, “above her station”.  Ian, dear, this woman is a career woman in a highly-challenging field.  You sir, are a brickie.  Of course, both jobs – like all jobs – are valued for their own merits and are both deserving equal respect.  Consider however that if Poppy left her job, she would be hard to replace.  Your employer could fire you and have another brickie in your place within minutes.

And come on, the claim that “I have wolf-whistled so many girls and got so many birds and snogged so many girls off the back of that, and never had a complaint before.”?  WHO is he trying to kid?  He’s certainly not convincing me.  He’s maybe trying to convince himself, and succeeding.  However, as far as complaints are concerned, one can only wonder what his girlfriend (if she exists) makes of his behaviour.  I certainly know if I wolf-whistled anyone (of either gender) in public, my partner would not only be far from pleased, I would be spending the next few nights on the couch – perhaps even for my own safety.

It is sad that Poppy Smart had to take this action, but I for one champion her doing so.  In 2015, this sort of behaviour is simply not acceptable.  In most countries nowadays sexually-orientated behaviour towards others in the workplace constitutes sexual harrassment, which is quite rightfully a disciplinary matter, and which if serious and / or repeated can quite rightfully lead to dismissal for gross misconduct.  If it is wrong among work colleagues, how can it ever be “just banter”, as some are claiming, when directed at members of the public?  The simple answer is it cannot.  I have in my time worked in customer-facing roles.  If in such roles I had wolf-whistled or made suggestive comments to even one member of the public, I would have been dismissed with immediate effect, the employer dismissing me would have been well within their right to do so, and with that on my record, I would find it extremely hard to find another post, with no-one but myself to blame.

Builders of the mindset of Ian Merrett and his colleagues, and anyone else whose work brings them into a public-facing role need to be made to realise that the public, women in particular, are not their property.  Their wolf-whistles and sexually-charged comments are not compliments.  Far from it, if anything they are insults.  Their behaviour is not “banter”, it is harrassment of a member of the public who may want nothing to do with them, and whose space and peace of mind they are invading without permission from that individual.  In that final definition, their behaviour could be classed as threatening, or even bullying.

And I am not alone in thinking that, the law happens to agree with me.  Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan of Greater Manchester Police, who is also national (England & Wales) police lead for Stalking and Harrassment, quoting the Protection Against Harrassment Act and the Public Order Act, told The Guardian, “It is not only unacceptable for someone to disparage, insult and offend someone in this way, but it can be against the law.” He continues: “Just because someone somewhere has a personal opinion that wolf-whistling and boorish behaviour is ‘fun’ and not criminal does not make it right – try living with the day-to-day drip, drip feeling that someone is acting in a way that causes you fear and knowing that they just don’t care about the impact on you.”

There are of course those who would argue that Poppy Smart could have changed her route.  The simple answer to this is why the hell should she?  Why should she be inconvenienced, perhaps having to take a longer route to work, because of the behaviour of others?  The answer is of course that she should not.  To do so, not only would she have not so bravely confronted what is not just a problem for her, but for all other women having to pass that building site, and even on a national, and possibly international level.

Some may say this has never happened before.  I would agree with that, but would add there is a first time for everything.  Poppy Smart by her actions has opened the flood gates and has set a precedent where other women, empowered by her example, may now follow.  Women tired of the unwanted attentions of a bunch of ignorant sexist men may now look to her case, and likewise make police complaints against them and their employers.  Once the employers get the message, they will filter down to their employees the clear message that they are ambassadors for the companies they represent, and that the sexual harrassment of women cannot and will not be tolerated.

I leave the last word to Poppy Smart herself;

“Men will lean out of their cars or vans and shout comments about my appearance or whistle and I know and have seen this happen to others as well. I think more women should speak out about this behaviour, maybe it will make people think twice,  Imagine hearing someone speaking that way to your sister, mother, wife or daughter.  Personally I don’t think that such comments, even if they are considered complimentary by the perpetrators, are appropriate.  It is very disrespectful and is comparable to calling out at someone of a different race or religion.”

Well said, Poppy.  I could not agree more.